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Parents again

Lifestyle | In a changing nation, more grandparents are taking on the responsibilities of parenting

Issue: "After Osama," May 21, 2011

The U.S. population is changing in ways that will have a major impact on the economy, business, and government. That's the gist of a recent report by James Johnson and John Kasarda, both professors at the University of North Carolina. Although all the data from the 2010 census are not out, Johnson and Kasarda write that enough clues already exist to identify "six disruptive demographic trends" that Census 2010 "will likely confirm with hard and reliable data."

Among the trends: America is becoming grayer and browner, older and more Hispanic. Population is shifting south and west, and with it political power. Americans are increasingly marrying outside their own race or ethnicity. The employment prospects of men are in decline. More grandparents are raising their grandchildren.

In 2010 4.9 million children under the age of 18 lived in a grandparent-headed household, a rise of 26 percent over the last decade. If you include children being raised by aunts, uncles, and other relatives, the number goes up to 6.7 million. More than half of the grandparent-headed households contained both grandparents, but two out of five were headed by grandmothers alone, and 6 percent were headed by grandfathers alone. According to Generations United, about 2.5 million of the children do not have either parent present.

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The Pew Research Center said the number of children living with grandparents increased gradually early in the 2000s, but the recession that began in 2007 led to a sharp uptick. Among the reasons for children living with their grandparents: unemployment, foreclosures, long military deployments, and child welfare agencies turning to grandparents to provide long-term care when troubled parents neglect or abuse their children.

Many grandparents are still working when they assume parenting responsibilities. Others have retired and find their resources stretched by the added responsibilities. About 20 percent of grandparent-headed families are poor.

The Foundation for Grandparenting (grandparenting.org) the National Center for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren (chhs.gsu.edu/nationalcenter/) at Georgia State offer helpful links and resources. Churches could find many ways to serve these fragile and overstressed families.

A system that grinds slowly

May is National Foster Care Month. For the second year in a row, more children exited the foster care system than entered it. At the end of 2009, 424,000 children were in the system, the lowest number since 1991. Tom Atwood, former president of the National Council for Adoption, took a deeper look into the numbers: "The average foster child is 9.6 years old and stays in foster care for 27 months. Of these children, 23 percent have been in foster care for more than three years and 11 percent have been in for more than five years."

Of the 276,000 children who left the system, more than half were reunited with their parents. Two of 10 were adopted and one of 10 "emancipated," typically at age 18-which means that more than 29,000 left the system without ever finding a family. Atwood points out that the system grinds slowly for the 115,000 children whose permanency plan is adoption: They typically wait for more than three years, and 19,000 have waited for more than five years.

Cry of the Orphan, a collaboration between Focus on the Family, Family Life's Hope for Orphans, and Show Hope, is encouraging believers to pray in May for children in foster care. A Focus on the Family initiative begun in 2008 has contributed to the placement in families of most Colorado children cleared for adoption.

Making beautiful music together

Two British musicians decided to set up an online dating service based on musical taste. The idea is simple: Tastebuds.fm "helps you meet single people who share your passion for music." You tell Tastebuds.fm your three favorite bands and it will identify other single people in your area (currently London) who have similar musical tastes. It's a clever idea that could spawn similar sites aimed at a narrower clientele. How about a Christian site that matched people based on their favorite hymnals, Scripture songs, hymns, or musicians? It would help identify denominational and doctrinal divides, but it could also identify possible flashpoints within a tradition: Reformed University Fellowship vs. Trinity Hymnal, for instance. No more worship wars within families.

Book on a box

British supermarket chain Asda and Puffin books are teaming up to make breakfast more interesting. London's Telegraph reported that Puffin, which holds the publishing rights to Roald Dahl's children's books, struck a deal with Dahl's estate to print on cereal boxes excerpts from his well-loved The BFG, The Witches, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Twits, and Danny: Champion of the World. The excerpts-each about 200 words long-could end up on more than 10 million boxes of "rice pops, frosted flakes and honey hoops."

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